So we were going to visit two more sites in the Kakheti region before heading back to Tbilisi. Tomorrow I would have the day off from touring with my guide and driver so that I can go on a food tour of Tibilisi. More about that after that tour.
In the mean time, Jakob and Katiya picked me up at the winery at 10:00 a.m. after a wonderful night spent wine tasting at the Schuchmann Winery, where I was staying, and eating a glorious meal all at the recommendation of my marvelous server Luka. I am certain that for the rest of my life I will dream of the white cream of tomato soup (yep white) I was served. And no matter how hard I tried, I could not get the recipe. Apparently, it is a secret that only the chef knows.
Anyway, when Jakob and Katiya picked me up the glorious weather I had been experiencing had turned to downright crappy. Foggy, cool and rainy. The good news, we were going to be inside and even better, the good weather was supposed to return tomorrow.
So once we loaded the car up with my luggage, we set off for Tsinandali, which was the summer residence of Prince Alexandre Chavchavadze, who inherited the village of Tsinandali from his father. Prince Chavchavadze subsequently renovated the estate in 1835, building a new palace and fabulous garden. In addition, Prince Chavchavadze constructed Georgia’s oldest and largest winery on the site where he combined European and Georgian winemaking traditions. The dry white Tsinandali is still produced today from grapes grown on the estate.
Unfortunately, the Chavchavadze family lost the estate when they had to borrow money from the Russians to pay a ransom for the release of their kidnapped children. Unable to pay the money back, Czar Nicholas took over the estate and kept it for himself. Today the estate has been converted into a museum with other parts of the estate operating as hotel and winery.
The tour of the museum was quite fascinating with the various rooms recreated to show how the family lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. There was furniture, including the first piano ever used in Georgia, paintings, embroideries made by the daughters of Chavchavadze, books owned by the family, clothing, and jewelry, including personalized cuff links and legal notices for the areas of the Chavchavadze family members.
The most fascinating site for me was the wine cellar where 20,000 bottles of wine remain stored. I gotta believe that wine has long since gone bad. Anyway, after the tour, we actually had the opportunity to taste the Tsinandali dry white wine (hey I thought all the wine tasting was done yesterday). It turned out that the dry white was the best white wine I drank in the tour of the wineries. I could have had a couple more glasses and it was only 11:00 a.m.
After the museum tour, we drove through the rain to Gremi Castle and Archangels’ Church complex, which was located on a hill and included the Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, a three-story castle, a bell tower and a wine cellar. The complex was surrounded by a wall with turrets and towers.
We made our way up a number of stairs to the entrance where we first visited the castle, which was built of stone and brick in the 16th century. Just past the entrance there was a video displaying what the site looked like in its heyday. In addition, there were pictures of kings and queens who had occupied the castle as well as a sample coat of armor. However, the best site in the entire castle was the “bathroom”. A chair with a hole in the middle sitting over a hole in the ground. Classic!
We climbed to the top of the castle up a very narrow, windy set of stone stairs where we were able to look out to magnificent views (through the rain and fog) to the surrounding town and the adjacent church. It definitely provided a good vantage point for watching for your enemies.
Once we had visited the castle, we walked next door to the magnificent Church, which was constructed in 1565 with frescoes added to the church in 1577. And the good news … we were allowed to take pictures. The bad news … I still have my crappy camera so the fresco pictures are not the best.
Anyway, the church was built primarily of stone and featured a massive dome and beautiful pillars and arches that seem to be the custom for true Georgian churches (as opposed to the Russian style that I have seen throughout Georgia).
We wandered around for a bit taking in all the frescos. Unfortunately, the rain and grey skies made for a very dark church so it was a challenge with the crappy camera to take even remotely good pictures. Such a shame because the church really was lovely.
After the visit, we left the Gemi castle complex and began the drive back to Tbilisi. This time we took a different route back to Tbilisi from the route we took on Tuesday opting for the Gombori road, which would take us through the Caucus Mountains. The drive was actually quite beautiful despite the heavy fog. We drove through tree tunnels and past small little villages and wide open meadows up, up, up to the Gombori Pass at 1650 meters. And the only downside of the drive was that it was filled with endless turns back and forth up the mountain pass and then down from the mountain pass.
At one point we passed the ruins of one of the oldest fortresses in Georgia, the Ujarma Fortress built in the 5th century. I really should have asked my drive to stop so I could take a look, but I nevertheless managed to take a few nice pictures.
We reached Tbilisi just after 3:00. I planned to walk around the old town for a bit and then get to bed early. I had a lot of walking, eating and drinking to do tomorrow.